Technology has created one issue that most parents and researchers can agree on: it promotes distraction. Today, a teen can’t start his homework without first updating his social media status, logging into his IM account and plugging his headphones into his ears. While teens don’t think this type of overstimulation is a big deal, a study conducted by Harvard researchers found that non-stop media exposure can lead to a host of psychiatric and behavioral symptoms, including sleep issues, hyperactivity, and attention and family interaction problems.
Bullying is no longer limited to taunts on the playground or in school. Unrestricted access to technology has produced cyber-bullying, which is the act of using technology to slander, embarrass or ridicule a peer. According to Change.org, at least half of teens have been exposed to some form of cyber-bullying, and these incidents can have serious, devastating and long-term consequences for both the bullies and their victims.
Limited Communication Skills
Another byproduct of overexposure to technology: limited social skills. Many teens freely admit that they’d rather text than talk, and sending 10,000-plus messages a month in texting shorthand can be detrimental to a teen’s verbal and written communication skills. According to research reported in the New York Times, researchers are worried about the impact that texting and virtual chatting is having not only on kids’ writing and speaking skills, but also on their ability to establish and maintain friendships.
Image and Reputation
If you’ve ever heard the saying “Don’t post something online that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper,” you’ve witnessed the staying power of the Internet. Teens can become so absorbed in maintaining their virtual lives that they may fail to realize that the words and images they’re posting online are permanent, and can follow them into their college years and beyond. In fact, more and more colleges are scoping out applicants’ online profiles during the admissions process. If an admissions officer doesn’t like what he sees on your social media profile, he may reject your teen’s application. That momentary lapse of judgment on your teen’s part? It can have lifelong consequences.
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, technology that includes the use of interactive media can actually help kids to learn in a developmentally appropriate way. What makes a tech toy interactive? It's the ability for the child to get hands-on and actively participate in the learning process. For example, staring at a computer screen as colors or letters move by is a passive pursuit. On the other hand, if the child is able to get involved and make decisions, press keys or move a mouse to create or choose different options, the technology is interactive.
Socially Interactive Technology
Another aspect of developmentally appropriate technology is the ability for a child to interact with a parent, teacher or other child while using a computer game, software or other media item. Developmentally appropriate technology for young children can include a social aspect, in which the child can talk to or work with another person in order to solve problems and learn new concepts. This may include something as simple as a parent-child question-and-answer session while playing a shape-matching game online, or a more peer-oriented situation such as two or more preschoolers playing a number game together on the computer.
Developmentally appropriate tech toys and programs should include an array of concepts that meet the young child's learning level. Think of this as a digital translation of paper and pencil -- or other classroom -- material. For example, the child development experts at PBS Parents note that 4-year-olds can learn basic mathematics concepts such as counting up to 10, matching geometric shapes and recognizing sequences of patterns. A computerized version of a math game should include these concepts in order to keep in line with the young child's developmental abilities. Likewise, technological learning experiences in other subjects should have concepts that are age-appropriate.
Another aspect of developmentally appropriate technology use is the actual content that your child is viewing. While keeping learning concepts age-appropriate is key, additional types of viewing -- such as online searches and websites -- should meet your child's level. This means closely monitoring your young child's computer use, setting parental controls and using a kid-friendly search engine such as KidRex. With the growing use of computers and the Internet, it is unrealistic to think that your child can grow up without surfing online. Instead of ruling out Internet use, turn it into a developmentally appropriate exploration in which your little learner can safely search.